Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 14: No 1) >> The Muse of Southern Literature >> Page 13

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Page 13

Secondary Scholarship | 2006
Transcription high places have been present to the eye of our childhood, and all its
triumphs and interests have been incorporated, by the silent processes of
memory and thought, into the very soul of our personal existence."29
Simms is articulating a symbiotic relationship between the genius,
the man of talent who leads and guides a nation and the society, the people,
which raised and nourished him. The genius receives his inclinations and his
virtues from the people, and in turn enriches and uplifts them by his
imagination and creativity. This is why Simms believed that mental
independence for a community of people, whether that community be a state,
a section, a nation, or whatever form it might take, was vital in artistic and
intellectual development, because a society which thought for itself produced
individuals raised with those independent characteristics who, endowed with
special talent, perceived the world in fresh and different perspectives;
making original contributions to man's civilization.
A very simple and elemental illustration comes from the natural
environment of one's country, of immense interest to Simms, though many
in his day and this fail to see any relationship with national literary
development of any consequence. Though the principal of natural beauty is
the same, it has special meaning if it is one's own, if one is most familiar
with it. For example, Simms wrote that American authors should write not of
nightingales but of mockingbirds. The familiar sound of a mockingbird
could stir a passion or an understanding which a never heard nightingale
could never do. Similarly, and to many of much greater consequence;
republican America looked more favorably upon the freedom of the common
man than did aristocratical and monarchical Europe, unleashing new
possibilities for literature. The South might be backward in literary endeavor,
but it had its own special history and romance. Things were important to the
South that were not important; or as important, to "cold-calculating New
England." The partisan warfare in the South won the Revolution for
America, Simms asserted. In any case there are achievements and lessons in
this history to which the South brought special recognition, including the
remarkable feats that small numbers of determined men can perform, against
hopeless odds.
The importance to Simms of national and Southern literature
penetrated even deeper, however, than the encouragement they gave to
creativity and the uplift of one's people, and therefore to mankind at large, as
important as these are to the universal value of art. A people's literature, as a
record and explication of what a people- are, was to- Simms an- intrinsic- part
of a person's being. Men owe to society their life, their virtues, and their
accomplishments. The society which reared them has become a part of them.
They have a duty to that society to place it first in their hearts. This ardent
patriotism of Simms, especially his enthusiastic patriotism for the South, has
done more than anything else to tarnish Simms's image. It is alienation